IS announces new campaign, launching coordinated attacks in several provinces:
On 22 October, IS Spokesperson Abi Hamza al-Qurayshi released a statement urging IS fighters to launch attacks and free imprisoned members in all IS states. He called for intensive raids, and the continuation of the war of attrition, referring to a longstanding campaign intended to gradually degrade security forces and local government supporters. He added “today, the entire world is witnessing a lot of changes…. thus, be fully prepared to take the chance and emerge again”. This statement apparently referred to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other conditions, which IS intended to exploit.
Beginning on 21 October, IS attack claims began bearing the designation of Battle of Labuu al-Nida (Answer the Call). Likely timing influences included expected elevated IS attack intent during the interim period between Arba’een and Mawlid. IS also likely had to consider the overshadowing impact of the October protest movement ahead of large-scale protests marking the one-year anniversary of the violent protests on 25 October.
IS intended to mark the new campaign with a set of coordinated attacks in northern and central Iraq on the evening of 22 October. The effectiveness of coordinated attacks tends to vary given the priority placed on coordinated timings as opposed to the most ideal environment-specific conditions. Most attacks tend to be consistent with established patterns on an individual basis, though lethal outliers are also common as seen with the four or five Federal Police fatalities in Kirkuk province during the 5 October coordinated attacks. Attack effectiveness for the 22 October events was dismal, with casualties moderate, and an intended high-impact attack failing in its execution. Nevertheless, the attack capabilities demonstrated during these events forms a consideration for future activity.
In southern Nineveh province, IS conducted a complex attack involving mortar fire and an IED attack against an Iraqi Army unit in the Shura sub-district. No casualties were reported. Another complex attack involving sniper fire and mortar fire targeted positions in a restive area north of Jalawla town in northeastern Diyala province. The attack was repelled by Iraqi Army units and armed local citizens. One insurgent was reportedly wounded and subsequently arrested. Some security sources asserted that ISF using thermal optics detected IS movements and initiated contact. Further south, an IED detonation wounded three soldiers in an area near Muqdadiyah city the following morning.
In the only lethal attack on the night of 22 October, IS gunmen killed two PMF members during an attack against an outpost manned by the 22nd Badr Organization PMF Brigade in a remote area of eastern Salah ad Din province. Elsewhere in the province, an IED reportedly detonated against IS members travelling in a pickup truck in a remote area of western Baiji district. The Security Media Cell confirmed that the detonation killed all four occupants. A potentially more likely scenario involved an IED detonating while being transported in the pickup truck, but inadvertent IS exposure to a device that was previously emplaced by counterparts cannot be discounted during this rare instance.
Vehicle borne IED detonation near Ramadi wounds one civilian:
The most significant component of the 22 October coordinated attacks involved an intended high-impact attack near a major population center in eastern Anbar province. That night, a parked vehicle borne IED based on a Kia truck detonated near the Jarayshi Bridge on Highway 1, north of Ramadi city. One civilian was wounded as the only casualty. It is suspected that this poorly executed attack involved original IS intent to target an ISF movement or another prominent target along the highway. Other possibilities involve aborted intent for further transit into Ramadi or another city. In any event, poor attack execution contributed to a virtually ineffective detonation despite the employment of a sizeable truck-based device. This attack generated scant international media attention accordingly.
The 22 October detonation stands out as the first confirmed vehicle borne IED attack since the 1 September coordinated vehicle borne IED attacks in Kirkuk and Anbar provinces. That morning, one IS operative detonated his device under duress at a checkpoint near Kirkuk city, killing one civilian and wounding five other civilians and ISF. That afternoon, another vehicle borne IED detonated near an ISF checkpoint in a commercial area of Ramadi city, wounding two ISF and three civilians. The 1 September attacks stood out as the first confirmed vehicle borne IED detonations in Iraq since January. Similar to the instant attack, suspected timing influences involved elevated IS attack intent in the aftermath of Ashura.
The interim period between the 1 September attacks and the 22 October attack included sporadic reports of vehicle borne IEDs being interdicted or detonating under abnormal conditions in western Anbar province. These characteristics underscored established considerations that IS remains dependent upon support zones along the Iraq-Syria border for vehicle borne IED attack capabilities. Environments extending form the Syrian border towards eastern Anbar province are likewise considered the highest risk corridor. That said, the capability to access major highways in eastern Anbar province induces the capability to project this form of attack in diverse environments as noted by the 1 September detonation in Kirkuk province.
As detailed above, all three detonations during the 1 September and 22 October attacks were characterized by moderate effectiveness, paling in comparison with historically demonstrated capabilities for this classic form of mass-casualty attack. Persistent attack intent has not translated to the immediate revitalization of employment expertise. Nevertheless, increases in attack effectiveness are certainly possible in the future, particularly if the frequency of vehicle borne IED activity increases beyond the presently sporadic nature.
For further discussion and analysis, please see the full report.